The Tragic Story Of Andrew McAuley, The Australian Adventurer Who Disappeared In The Tasman Sea

Published July 13, 2023
Updated July 14, 2023

On January 11, 2007, 38-year-old Andrew McAuley set out to become the first solo kayaker to travel across the Tasman Sea from Australia to New Zealand. But he wouldn’t make it.

Andrew Mcauley

Vicki McAuleyLong-distance sea kayaker and mountaineer Andrew McAuley.

Andrew McAuley was an Australian mountaineer and sea kayaker who made a name for himself as a daring adventurist. In 2007, McAuley planned his greatest adventure yet: kayaking across the dangerous Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand.

The trip started off well, and McAuley made sure to update his friends and family with daily images and videos of him in his kayak.

However, a month into his trip, McAuley suddenly issued a distress call. Rescue crews searched for the kayaker but only managed to recover his broken kayak and camera memory stick.

Today, Andrew McAuley is still missing, and his family and friends still hope that one day they will learn what really happened to the bold adventurer.

Andrew McAuley, The Adventurer And Extreme Sportsman

Andrew McAuley was born on August 7, 1968, in Goulburn, New South Wales. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, McAuley and his brother, Michael, had somewhat of a “boys’ own” adventure of their own growing up in Queensland.

The two would go swimming, tree climbing, and even cliff diving.

As a young adult, Andrew McAuley’s fearlessness and hunger for adventure frequently took him around the world.

On one trip to Patagonia in the late 1990s, McAuley found his love for kayaking. After getting caught in a bad storm while mountaineering, he and his friends kayaked through the Chilean fjords. It was then that McAuley realized the power of the sport: he could still progress through any weather that came his way.

After this event, McAuley dove head first into the sport, taking up increasingly difficult challenges.

In 2003, Andrew McAuley became the first person to kayak a direct, non-stop crossing of the Bass Strait, a treacherous stretch of sea between mainland Australia and the island of Tasmania. In total, his 136-mile trip took 35 hours to complete.

Another trip included an almost 330-mile trip across the Gulf of Carpentaria, located in Northern Australia. The trip took McAuley a week to complete, and he became familiar with sleeping in his kayak overnight.

To commemorate McAuley’s great accomplishments, the Australian Geographic Society awarded McAuley the Adventurer of the Year award in 2005.

Evidently, Andrew McAuley was an experienced sea kayaker with hundreds of hours of dangerous trekking under his belt. So when he announced one of his biggest trips yet, many believed that he would be successful.

The Fateful Trip Across The Dangerous Tasman Sea

Andrew Mcauley Boat

Vicki McAuleyThe view from Andrew McAuley’s craft.

Andrew McAuley’s goal was to traverse across the Tasman Sea, a dangerous stretch of water between Australia and New Zealand. Several adventures had tried to make the same trip, but all failed. McAuley wanted to become the first to make a successful journey.

In December 2006, McAuley departed for the trip across the Tasman Sea but quickly aborted the mission after only one night. The region was dangerously cold, and McAuley suffered from hypothermia before the trip could really get started.

However, this did not deter McAuley, and with a new, insulated kayak in tow, he began the trip once again in January 2007.

Andrew McAuley’s vessel for the trip was a 19-foot Mirage kayak, modified for sleeping inside. A yellow fiberglass canopy with a cartoon face (McAuley called him “Casper”) was seated on the cockpit for protection from any rough storms. When McAuley would have to close himself in the kayak for the night, a ventilator allowed for airflow and prevented any water from entering the kayak if it became submerged.

With his kayak, Andrew McAuley began his trip across the sea, taking time to record the trip in pictures and videos. In one early video, McAuley remarked to his handheld camera how excited and nervous he was about the trip:

“It’s an excellent, excellent, excellent adventure… provided I make it. It’s more full-on than anything I could imagine. It’s a true, true, stunning, stunning adventure. I just hope I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew, because there’s a few little things going wrong, but I mean, I still feel pretty good… hopefully I’ll get there very soon because right now I just want it to be over with.”

“When I get older, I’ll look back and I’ll be stoked. I’ll be stoked, stoked, stoked that I did it but… it’s hard. It’s hard going,” he said in the video.

Nearly a month into his trip, McAuley had trekked across the majority of the Tasman Sea before hitting a brutal storm off the coast of New Zealand.

McAuley was seemingly able to tough out the storm, spending over 27 hours entombed in his kayak. The waves plunged the kayak into multiple barrel rolls and forced it nearly 30 feet under the waves.

The hazardous conditions certainly did a number on his kayak, but it wasn’t until after the storm blew past that Andrew McAuley sent his distress signal.

The Disappearance Of Andrew McAuley And The Unsettling Images Left Behind

Andrew Mcauley Last Image

Vicki McAuleyThe last photo Andrew McAuley took on his journey.

On February 8, a day after the storm ended, Andrew McAuley sent his wife, Vicki, a message stating: “See you 9 a.m. Sunday!”

McAuley’s family and friends had organized a welcome party for him at Milford Sound, New Zealand.

“We were planning to paddle out… and wait there until Andrew came in… with a bottle of whisky and ginger beer,” fellow adventurer Paul Caffyn told ABC radio, Paddling Magazine reported.

But Andrew McAuley never showed up.

Later, the family would find out that the New Zealand Coast Guard received a scrambled, largely incoherent radio message on February 9. Initially, the family believed it was just McAuley checking in for the day, but the Coast Guard later deciphered the words “help” and “sinking” from the radio call.

By February 10, a search party complete with planes scoured the area where McAuley was likely to be. That night, they found McAuley’s upturned kayak only 34 miles from Milford Sound. The search teams also located McAuley’s gear, but the kayaker was simply gone.

Strangely, the search crews noticed that the kayak was in near-perfect condition, with only some cosmetic damage from the storm. His paddle, phone, GPS tracker, and emergency radio were all inside the kayak.

On February 12, the search for Andrew McAuley was called off.

With such a strange scene, word quickly spread of the mysterious missing kayaker and theories about what happened to him went wild.

According to Paul Hewitson, the maker of McAuley’s kayak, McAuley likely capsized while “Casper,” the cockpit cover, was out of place. Then, McAuley and the kayak must have separated somehow. With how heavy the gear was in his kayak, it is possible that he was unable to flip the vessel back around.

Other theories speculate that a rogue wave may have caused McAuley to become separated from the kayak.

Today, Andrew McAuley is still missing and presumed dead. His family and friends have largely come to terms with his tragic end. On February 26, 2007, they held a memorial service for him at Sydney’s Macquarie Lighthouse.

There, overlooking the Tasman Sea, 400 friends and family of Andrew McAuley celebrated his life and listened to the chilling last words of the adventurer:

“I may have bitten off more than I can chew.”

After learning about the disappearance of Andrew McAuley, read about other disappearances at sea, like nine of history’s most eerie cruise ship disappearances. Then, uncover the story of the Panama Girls, two Dutch backpackers who went missing while hiking in Panama, leaving cryptic images on their camera.

Amber Breese
Amber Breese is an Editorial Fellow for All That's Interesting. She graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in political science, history, and Russian. Previously, she worked as a content creator for America House Kyiv, a Ukrainian organization focused on inspiring and engaging youth through cultural exchanges.
Matt Crabtree
Matt Crabtree is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. A writer and editor based in Salt Lake City, Utah, Matt has a Bachelor's degree in journalism from Utah State University and a passion for idiosyncratic news and stories that offer unique perspectives on the world, film, politics, and more.
Cite This Article
Breese, Amber. "The Tragic Story Of Andrew McAuley, The Australian Adventurer Who Disappeared In The Tasman Sea.", July 13, 2023, Accessed April 19, 2024.